Perverting the Course of Justice (Vic)
Perverting the course of justice is an offence that consists of doing any act in order to prevent justice being served upon a person. It is a serious indictable offence that can attract a penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment. However, there is a wide range of offending that may amount to perverting the course of justice, ranging from fairly trivial offending to extremely serious offending. How serious an offence is depends on the nature of the conduct, how long it continued for and its potential consequences.
In Victoria, perverting the course of justice or attempting to do so are common law offences and the penalties that apply to them are codified in Section 320 of the Crimes Act 1958.
Where is the charge heard?
This is an indictable offence and is heard in the County Court of Victoria.
Defences to perverting the course of justice
For the court to find an accused guilty, it must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that they intentionally did an act intended to pervert the course of justice and that the course of justice was in fact perverted. To find a person guilty of the offence of attempting to pervert the course of justice, the prosecution must prove only the first two of these elements.
A person charged with this offence has a defence if they did not do the act intentionally or if they did not intend it to pervert the course of justice.
How serious is the offence of perverting the course of justice?
Perverting the course of justice can be a very serious offence but it can also be relatively trivial. The seriousness of an offence and the sentence received depends on the nature of the conduct, how long it went on for and how much planning and premeditation occurred.
In considering the seriousness of an instance of perverting the course of justice, the court will look at:
- The circumstances;
- What acts the offender committed and what context they were committed in;
- The level of premeditation and planning.
In situations where the offending ‘evolved’ rather than following a premeditated course, this will reduce the accused’s level of culpability.
Success or failure
Unlike many other criminal offences, an attempt to pervert the occurs of justice is not made substantially less serious where there was a low likelihood that the accused would have succeeded. Instead, the seriousness of the attempted offence is measured by the potential consequences if it had succeeded.
Offences involving bail
Attempts to coerce police to grant bail are treated very seriously by the courts. Fraudulent conduct to obtain bail where bail should not be granted is also viewed very seriously.
Assisting offender or witness to abscond
Perverting the course of justice by assisting an offender to abscond will be dealt with harshly. A person who seeks to interfere with witnesses attending court to give evidence will also be sentenced severely.
Making a false accusation
An accused can be found guilty of perverting the course of justice on the basis that they made a false accusation of a crime. How an accused will be sentenced for this will depend on the seriousness of the consequences for whoever is wrongly accused and the level of planning and persistence by the offender. If the offender subsequently retracted their false accusation this will reduce the seriousness of the offending and may be used as evidence of remorse.
Enlisting other people to provide a false alibi is treated seriously as this interferes with the legal processes and seeks to induce others to commit serious offences
Concealing or falsifying evidence
Although attempts to conceal evidence may amount to perverting the course of justice, this is not always the case.
Attempts to bribe/manipulate police officers
Trying to bribe police is treated very seriously, even where the bribe was not accepted. Attempts to secure the withdrawal of charges through threats of violence or legal proceedings are treated even more seriously.
Attempts to bribe the judiciary
Attempts to bribe the judiciary are taken very seriously as they have the potential to undermine public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity.
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